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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Behind the Scenes at Garden Lights Holiday Nights

This week, as we raced to put the finishing touches on our Garden Lights Holiday Nights display (opening tonight!), I paused to snap a few pictures for you.

In the Conservatory Lobby, Sarah and Jason installed Freedom Red Poinsettias and variegated Spider Plants on the vertical wall.

...and Dendrobium Mini Snowflake on wave stands in front of the vertical wall. Radiant light orbs float overhead.

In the Orchid Atrium a non-traditional holiday color palette -chartreuse, pink and soft blue -is new this year, the brilliant inspiration of our Landscape Design Manager, Tres Fromme, who designs all of our seasonal displays.

It's seventeen feet to the top. Jason, Matt and Sarah installed Jubilee Pink Poinsettias and Dracaena Lemon Lime on our Poinsettia tree.

Megan engulfed in a sea of pink Kalanchoe, Echeveria Big Blue, Dracaena Limelight and Sansevieria Moonshine.

Garden Lights Holiday Nights opens at 5 pm tonight. This is our biggest and best holiday show ever, so don't miss it!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Bucket Orchid Season

Our Bucket Orchids (Coryanthes) are producing a lovely autumnal flush of growth. Some pretty incredible flowers will follow in a couple of months. Here's one of the earliest, Coryanthes mastersiana.

Coryanthes mastersiana produces two to three flowers on each inflorescence. It somewhat resembles the Brazilian species Coryanthes speciosa, but the fragrance is very different. According to G√ľnter Gerlach's website, Coryanthes mastersiana grows together with Coryanthes flava and Coryanthes elegantium in western Colombia and Ecuador.

Above is a diagram to help you make sense of the peculiar anatomy of Coryanthes flowers. The lip, often the most elaborate of an orchid's three petals, is modified in Coryanthes to facilitate pollination. The bucket, or epichile, fills with liquid from two glands protruding from sides of the column. At the rear of the bucket, and just visible in the photo, is an opening where the bucket meets the anther cap at the apex of the column.

When a male Euglossine bee scratches the surface of the hypochile in order to obtain liquid fragrance, he slips into the bucket. With his wings drenched, his only escape is to paddle to the rear opening and force his way through the small opening. In doing so, he rubs up against the sticky end of the pollinarium, which ends up attached to his body. At a subsequent Coryanthes the process is repeated, but this time he leaves the pollinia behind on the stigmatic surface of the column.

Coryanthes produce some of the most incredible flowers in the entire orchid family and this year I plan to set more capsules on our plants.

Monday, November 3, 2014


Here's a mystery for you. The lovely Tulip Orchid pictured above we received as Anguloa x ruckeri, a hybrid between Anguloa clowesii and Anguloa hohenlohii. Looks to me like there may be something else, perhaps some pink Anguloa uniflora lurking somewhere in its pedigree. Regardless, it's a beautiful plant. There are a dozen or so species of Anguloa native to the Andean tropics. They are among the most beautiful orchids in our collection.

Monday, October 27, 2014

How to Repot an Orchid

Yes, you can do this. It's not rocket science. Repotting is fun. And your orchid will thank you, especially if it's been two or more years since it was repotted. Never repotted an orchid before? We can fix that. Come on into our greenhouse and I'll show you how.

1. Gather your materials.  A good basic orchid mix consists of equal parts fir bark, charcoal and sponge rock (aka coarse perlite). You can buy these products online from OFE International and Tropical Plant Products. They also sell high quality ready-to-use packaged orchid mixes. Grower's Tip: The organic component -in this case the bark- can make or break the quality of an orchid mix, because that's the part that breaks down with repeated watering. The bark should be Douglas Fir or Pinus radiata, and should be mold-free. Pinus radiata (sold as Orchiata) and kiln-dried Douglas Fir bark (sold as Rexius bark) last longer than regular Douglas Fir bark. Fir bark often needs to be rinsed beforehand in order to remove dust and sediment.

2. Select a plant. The best time to repot an orchid like Cattleya is when the new shoot is about the length of your pinkie finger. The new shoot indicates that the plant has started a new cycle of growth, the perfect time to provide new roots with fresh medium. We repot every two years, because that's the lifetime of fir bark mixes in our greenhouse. Any longer is asking for trouble -a waterlogged mix that kills roots. Grower's Tip: Keep your eye on that new shoot while repotting! It is as fragile as new asparagus and if you break it, you lose an entire season's growth, including the flowers.

3. Invert the plant, tap the rim of the pot against the table and remove the plant. Keep the new shoot well away from the table when you do this. Grower's Tip: Water your plant the day before to make it easier to dislodge.

4. Remove the old mix. Hold the plant by the pseudobulbs (not the roots!) with one hand and gently prod the mix with your other hand in order to loosen it. Grower's Tip: Expect to find new yellow-tipped roots emerging near the base of the new shoot. Be careful not to break them.

5. Remove the dead roots. Healthy roots are white and firm. Dead roots are grey/black and squishy. You can use pruners for cutting, but remember that viruses in plant sap can be spread by using the same tool on consecutive plants. Grower's Tip: That's why we use one razor blade per plant. We wrap used blades in duct tape before discarding them. When I divide a large plant, I use a kitchen knife and sterilize it with a propane torch between plants. Grower's Tip #2: Notice the new shoot face up on the table? Don't rest the plant on its new shoot. Grower's Tip #3: Orchid roots can absorb tannins from the bark in the mix and appear brown on the surface. A brown root can be healthy. When in doubt, cut a cross section--a healthy root will have a white core.

6. Wash the roots. I like to do this under a gentle stream of water at the sink. It gently removes the old bark hiding in inaccessible places. And it often reveals more dead roots that need to be cut away. If the roots are healthy you don't need to remove all the mix --only about three quarters. If the roots are in poor shape, remove as much old mix as possible. Grower's Tip: This is a great time to observe how your plant is constructed. Notice how the vertical shoots (the pseudobulbs) are connected by a horizontal stem (or rhizome, pronounced rye-zome). This will become important in a few minutes.

7. Choose a pot size based on the size of the root mass, not the top growth. One inch bigger all around is plenty. Orchids like to attach their roots to their surroundings. Let them. Grower's Tip: A step up in pot size isn't always necessary. Sometimes fresh mix and a clean pot of the same size is all that's needed.

8. Center the new shoot in the pot. See how I'm holding the older part of the plant against the rim of the pot? That's because I want the new shoot in the center where it will have plenty of room to grow over the next two years. Looks asymmetric, right? Absolutely. The new shoot goes in the center. Hold the base of the new shoot about a half inch below the top rim. That's your imaginary fill line.

9. While holding the plant in place with your left hand, add mix with your right hand, small amounts at a time.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Stanhopea connata

Stanhopea connata ABG# 1993-2450
Not every Stanhopea smells like a pastry shop. Poor Stanhopea connata. It's the one Stanhopea that can clear a room.
Dorsal view of Stanhopea connata ABG# 1993-2450
While most stanhopeas have fragrances delectable enough to eat, Stanhopea connata exudes cresole and indole. Cresole is the fragrance compound associated with coal tar (think freshly poured asphalt). And indole has a fragrance described in botanical literature as fecal. I was not, to be honest, in a hurry to have a closed door photo session with Stanhopea connata.
Front view of Stanhopea connata
And that's too bad! Look at that face, with the bold tiger stripes and spots. I was completely charmed. Charmed and overwhelmed, actually.
Dorsal view of the lip and column with sepals and lateral petals removed 
Of course, it doesn't matter one bit what I think of the fragrance. The fragrance is all about attracting a pollinator. And it's kind of cool to think that there are fragrance-collecting bee species in the tropics who are mad for asphalt and cow dung.
Dorsal view of the lip without the column
My photo shoot with S. connata lasted about an hour. Over time, the cresole seemed to diminish and the indole began to assert itself. But by the end I hardly noticed. What a handsome plant this is. The images will be stored in ABG's image library.
Ventral view of the lip
Stanhopea connata grows as an epiphyte along the eastern cordillera in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. It is pollinated by Eulaema speciosa.
Ventral view of the column

Saturday, October 4, 2014

How to Repot Stanhopea

September and October are Stanhopea repotting season for us. Every grower has their own repotting technique, but I thought you might want to take a look behind the scenes at ours.

Orchids that are flourishing don't generally appreciate the root disturbance that repotting can inflict. Stanhopeas are no exception. We repot when: 1) The plant has overgrown the pot; 2) The medium needs to be replaced, either because it has deteriorated -after about two years- or because it is inappropriate for our growing conditions; or  3) The plant is in trouble. Signs of trouble include desiccated leaves and shriveled or rotting pseudobulbs.

The stanhopeas above, which we received last week from Andy's Orchids, fall into the second category. Andy grows his stanhopeas in a medium that works well for him, but turns to mush in our greenhouses during our hot & humid summers.

We repot our orchids when the new roots and shoots appear. For most stanhopeas, that's in late summer and early fall. In the photo above, you can see the new shoot on the Stanhopea graveolens in the foreground. Now is the time!

Because our plants are far from the main potting bench in the headhouse, I set up a temporary potting bench in our back-up greenhouse. It's just a pair of plastic sawhorses supporting a 5' rectangle of plywood. Potting materials include net baskets, razor blades and one of our favorite orchid media, a mixture of long-fibered premium moss and coarse tree fern fiber. The plants were watered the previous day in order to soften the potting medium.

1. To remove the plant, invert the pot and tap the rim against the edge of the potting bench.

2. Gently remove the old medium around the exterior of the root mass, small bits at a time so as to not break the new roots.

To remove the old medium from the center of the root mass, hold the plant by the pseudobulbs (not by the roots!), and wash the roots gently under running water. Remove about three quarters of the medium. It's not necessary to remove every bit unless you see rotting tissue. Rotting roots and pseudobulbs are easy to see after washing and can be removed with a razor blade.

3. Choose a pot size based on the size of the root mass. For a plant this size, we want a pot about an inch wider than the root mass on all sides. And, for a Stanhopea, choose a basket with openings that allow the downward-growing spikes to emerge from the root mass.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Deconstructing ruckeri

Side view of Stanhopea ruckeri 'Tikal' ABG# 1997-0230
A Stanhopea flower is an exquisite thing, but trying to observe one from every angle while it's still on the inflorescence is a frustrating experience because of the compact arrangement of flowers. It's especially hard to get a direct look at the upper surface of the lip because the column blocks its view. The best way to look at Stanhopea flower is to remove it and take it apart.

Dorsal view of Stanhopea ruckeri 'Tikal' ABG# 1997-0230
Dorsal view of the column and lip without the two lateral petals and three sepals
Dorsal view of the lip without the column
Ventral view of the lip
Ventral view of the column
Dissecting these flowers increases my admiration for them. And the powerful fragrance that is released inside our small closed library is wonderful. Some of them (like Stanhopea embreei, 99% trans-methylcinnamate) I want to inhale over and over again. How exactly do the Euglossine bees experience this fragrance, I wonder?
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